In Our Own Backyards

Jumbo Wild producer Laura Yale on the fight to protect our dwindling wild places.

Laura Yale learned at a young age how talented she was at getting lost in the mountains. After earning a BA in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she has continuously found herself lost in mountain towns across North America and has worked to preserve the character of these unique communities through the protection of surrounding public lands. First as a grassroots organizer and now as a film producer, Laura collects stories from people who care for their wild backyards and disseminates them to anyone willing to listen in order to inform better wilderness policy and protection.

Jumbo Wild, screening today as a part of the San Francisco Green Film Festival, had its D.C. premiere, last month, at the 24th Annual Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital.


EFF: How did you get involved in filmmaking?

LAURA YALE: Before making Jumbo Wild, I was a political organizer who ran a grassroots wilderness campaign to protect public lands in Colorado. I attended a lot of film festivals and started to notice that people would be moved, truly moved, after watching a good documentary. I saw them immediately take real action or change habits to support a cause they had just learned about on the big screen. So when a friend asked me to help produce Jumbo Wild, I knew it was a chance to expand my toolkit and explore a creative way to rally people in protecting what they love most, their own backyards.

EFF: What drew you to this particular project?

LY: What attracted me to this project is that the film would be paired with activism. Recreation is growing exponentially, and I can see how many people derive much of their happiness from access to public lands. We are heartbroken when another mine is developed, another gas well built, a backroad is paved, all of which affect our personal experience as we explore wild places. Yet most of us fail to get involved in the long, sometimes arduous, democratic process required to protect the places we love. It’s frustrating to watch people who care, but don’t put in the effort to help, or don’t know how to help. There needs to be new, creative approaches, ones that make the democratic process and activism a bit more sexy.

EFF: What challenges did you face in the process of producing the project?

LY: We wanted to fairly represent all sides of the story and give a balanced look at the diverse groups involved in the issue. From the developers to First Nations to the local rod and gun club, we talked with everyone. It was hard to walk into a 25-year-long polarizing discussion and keep a fully objective view. People would tear up as they recounted their last 20 years fighting for or against the resort and realizing how much time and energy they had poured into Jumbo. We all have different world views of which we project onto the mountains and landscapes around us, but how do you reconcile an irreconcilable rift on land use? I still don’t think we figured out the answer to that one, but hopefully this film will facilitate deeper discussion about how we value land and what we need to do to ensure our current land use reflects our values.

EFF: Why do you think DCEFF is important? Why should people attend?

LY: Anytime you can bring awareness and facilitate discussion around current issues, you’re taking part in fulfilling responsibilities we have as humans to be active members in our small and larger communities. While we always hope these conversations translate into action, awareness is indeed the first step. In addition, film festivals like DCEFF bring people together who are passionate about improving the imbalanced relationship we humans have with everything else on this earth. In that way, we become inspired and feed off of each other’s energy. We’re all just trying to leave the world a little better off than it was when we came into it. At events like DCEFF, we realize we’re clearly not in it alone.

EFF: How does your film relate to this year’s theme: “Parks: Protecting Wild?”

LY: Jumbo Wild is a documentary that explores an epic tug of war between a proposed large-scale ski resort on one side and community members, First Nations, grizzly advocates and conservationists on the other. The film documents a fierce ideological battle surrounding how we value land and why we care so deeply about our wild backyards. It serves as a reminder that fierce determination, action and collaboration amongst diverse groups can beat big money and politics to protect what we hold dear.

EFF: Why do you feel that it’s important to preserve parks and/or protect wildlife?

LY: If we don’t curb our habits, limit ourselves in some form or another, set places aside where we’re not the top priority, we will lose so much of what we value. We may also lose what allows us to survive on this planet, whether that’s clean water or or food sources or our sanity. Other species are already suffering and will continue to do so unless we proactively take steps to live in a way that we can all live together. .


Register for the Jumbo Wild screening here.

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